Robert Rauschenberg, “Drifts,” 1968

Students in Prof. Siddons’ “Art Since 1960” class had the chance this spring to write about a work of art from the OSUMA collection, featured in the exhibition, “Sharing a Journey.” The assignment entailed looking at a work of art for at least 45 minutes, and to write about their close-looking experience, followed by interpretation. Michael Rahn wrote about Robert Rauschenberg’s Drifts from 1968. The following text was excerpted from his paper by graduate teaching assistant Michelle Rinard.

Visually consisting of an assortment of representational images, Drifts does not submit to a specific narrative, nor is there a specific stance that Rauschenberg is taking by means of subject or content. In terms of subject, I believe that the artist is conveying the importance of the ‘everyday’, tying the bridge between art and life within contemporary society. By utilizing a number of drastically different images in terms of content and subject, the artist is not trying to cohere to a specific subject, but only trying to encompass the idea of a collective conscience. Formally, the image is addressing the process of layering images on top of one another, treating the surface two-dimensionally. The illusion of atmosphere and depth are not trying to be achieved.

Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925-2005), "Drifts," 1968. Lithograph, 42 1/4 x 29 3/4 in (sheet). Gift of Bill Goldston, BFA '66, 85-0140.

Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925-2005), “Drifts,” 1968. Lithograph, 42 1/4 x 29 3/4 in (sheet). Gift of Bill Goldston, BFA ’66, 85-0140.

As a viewer I am engaged with both the physical and intellectual properties of Drifts. I respond to the piece physically in terms of process. This image was processed and printed from lithographic stones. This is apparent because the outline, or border of the stone, is printed on the piece of artwork. There is a strong physicality pertaining to the concept of printing an image off of an organic object such as limestone. Pressure and weight are most apparent in the embossment of the nickel in the upper left-hand corner of the print. Intellectually I am engaged with the interest and importance of the everyday that the piece exhibits. The utilization of found images and everyday objects allows me as a viewer to subconsciously access the realm of a collective conscience.

Drifts consists of an amassing of appropriated images from various sources such as newspapers, found photographs, original photographs, product labels, and even currency. The random and unorganized assortment of these various images is significant because it feels as though it is based on chance as well as unplanned automation. As a viewer, I am forced to decipher through a barrage of images, sorting out what might be of most importance to my viewing experience.

Installation view of "Sharing a Journey," with Rauschenberg, "Drifts," at center.

Installation view of “Sharing a Journey,” with Rauschenberg, “Drifts,” at center.

Rauschenberg is able to convey the transience of contemporary society in part by incorporating the use of images and clippings from daily newspapers. The act of transforming day-to-day images, which are originally produced on a disposable surface, into the permanence of a lithographic print is substantially important. He is in turn commenting, and in a way opposing the ephemerality of the day-to-day.

Due to the artist’s use of collage and accumulation of representational imagery he in turn invites the viewer to make connections and associations between the images even though there is not a narrative that is immediately evident. As a viewer I find this device to be most fascinating. It is as though embarking on a visual scavenger hunt in order to put the imagery into a logical system of cohesion. This is the instance where the artwork allows the viewing audience to associate the imagery in the piece to personal experiences that in turn trigger the creation of a quasi-personal narrative.

“Sharing a Journey: Building the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art Collection,” was on view at the Postal Plaza Gallery from January through May 2014.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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